U.S. urges citizens to leave Yemen after intercepting al Qaeda communications

The U.S. State Department has instructed all U.S. citizens and non-emergency government staff to leave Yemen "immediately" over security threats, and Britain has withdrawn its embassy staff. The United States closed 22 Middle East and North Africa embassies and consulates on Sunday saying it was "out of abundance of caution." However, U.S. officials had intercepted ...

MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. State Department has instructed all U.S. citizens and non-emergency government staff to leave Yemen "immediately" over security threats, and Britain has withdrawn its embassy staff. The United States closed 22 Middle East and North Africa embassies and consulates on Sunday saying it was "out of abundance of caution." However, U.S. officials had intercepted communications between al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the head of the Yemeni affiliate al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, in which Zawahiri ordered Wuhayshi to carry out an attack. A Yemeni security source said dozens of al Qaeda members had arrived in Yemen's capital Sanaa in recent days. Yemeni security forces have reportedly tightened security measures in the capital. Yemeni authorities released a list late Monday of 25 "most wanted terrorists" they suspect are planning an attack near the end of Ramadan targeting foreign offices and organizations as well as Yemeni government facilities. A suspected U.S. drone strike killed at least four alleged al Qaeda militants in Yemen's central Marib province Tuesday. One of the four people killed in the strike was reportedly Saleh al-Tays al-Waeli, who appeared among the list of terrorist suspects.

Syria

Syrian opposition forces reportedly overtook the government's Minakh air base in Aleppo province early Tuesday, after repeated attacks over nearly a year working to seize control. The final push is believed to have come from nine rebel groups, including Islamist factions and Chechens, and was led by two foreign men, one believed to be Saudi Arabian, who carried out a suicide attack in an armored vehicle. Opposition fighters have made other recent gains in the Latakia province, overtaking several Alawite villages, pushing deeper into the government stronghold. However, the Syrian regime celebrated its own victor with the defense minister touring the recently seized Khalidiyeh district of Homs.

The U.S. State Department has instructed all U.S. citizens and non-emergency government staff to leave Yemen "immediately" over security threats, and Britain has withdrawn its embassy staff. The United States closed 22 Middle East and North Africa embassies and consulates on Sunday saying it was "out of abundance of caution." However, U.S. officials had intercepted communications between al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the head of the Yemeni affiliate al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, in which Zawahiri ordered Wuhayshi to carry out an attack. A Yemeni security source said dozens of al Qaeda members had arrived in Yemen’s capital Sanaa in recent days. Yemeni security forces have reportedly tightened security measures in the capital. Yemeni authorities released a list late Monday of 25 "most wanted terrorists" they suspect are planning an attack near the end of Ramadan targeting foreign offices and organizations as well as Yemeni government facilities. A suspected U.S. drone strike killed at least four alleged al Qaeda militants in Yemen’s central Marib province Tuesday. One of the four people killed in the strike was reportedly Saleh al-Tays al-Waeli, who appeared among the list of terrorist suspects.

Syria

Syrian opposition forces reportedly overtook the government’s Minakh air base in Aleppo province early Tuesday, after repeated attacks over nearly a year working to seize control. The final push is believed to have come from nine rebel groups, including Islamist factions and Chechens, and was led by two foreign men, one believed to be Saudi Arabian, who carried out a suicide attack in an armored vehicle. Opposition fighters have made other recent gains in the Latakia province, overtaking several Alawite villages, pushing deeper into the government stronghold. However, the Syrian regime celebrated its own victor with the defense minister touring the recently seized Khalidiyeh district of Homs.

Headlines

  • A Turkish court issued life sentences to 19 people Monday over a military coup plot, including the former head of the Turkish army, Ilker Basbug.
  • U.S. officials and the EU’s Middle East envoy are continuing diplomatic efforts on Tuesday to broker a solution to Egypt’s political crisis. 

Arguments and Analysis

Damascus: What’s Left‘ (Sarah Birke, The New Yorker Blog)

"While the brutal devastation caused by the Syrian conflict, now entering its third year, has affected many parts of the country, the Syrian government has long sought to portray the capital as an oasis of calm. Unlike Aleppo, parts of which have been destroyed by a year of battle, central Damascus shows few physical scars of war, apart from the many roadblocks and checkpoints, and the burned-out remains of a building northeast of the city that was bombed. Unlike Raqqa, a city in the east of Syria that is in the hands of extremist rebels, Damascus looks like a bastion of tolerant, vibrant life. In this view, the functioning city demonstrates both the continued strength of the regime and the dangers of the increasingly fractured opposition. But as my visit to the Umayyad Mosque revealed, under the surface things aren’t the same in the Syrian capital.

The same day, I went out for dinner with a well-connected businessman — he went to school with Bashar al-Assad and Bashar’s elder brother Bassel and has flourished under the regime, even more so since the crisis started. The restaurant served a take on continental food and any type of alcohol you might fancy. A coiffed young woman with a photo of Bashar as her iPhone cover sang songs as her smiling companions knocked back drinks at a price that would pay the rent of a displaced family for a month. At one point, the businessman got up to use the bathroom and something clattered to the floor. It was a pistol. ‘Oh, that,’ he said. ‘I am so afraid of being kidnapped. I would rather kill myself than have that happen to me.’

During my stay, visits to a half-dozen different central neighborhoods made clear to me that the regime is far from on its last legs — at least here. The economy trundles along, largely propped up by funds from the Iranian government — which has injected at least $4 billion into Syria since the conflict began. Women bustle around the souqs, which remain open even as some shops have closed. Hotels which a year ago were contemplating closing their doors are doing a better trade now, thanks to well-to-do Syrians who have fled to the capital. The emptiness of the restaurants in the winding alleys and courtyard houses of the Old City is compensated for by ever increasing numbers of street vendors selling everything from headscarves to cigarettes to the displaced population."

Jordan’s Youth: Avenues for Activism‘ (Danya Greenfield, Atlantic Council)

"A key ingredient that drove the protest movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen was the youth population and their inclination to organize and activate thousands of people to protest against the excesses of the ruling regimes. In each of these countries, the vast majority of youth were largely apathetic, uninvolved, and uninitiated — but this changed when they sensed their own power and the potential for political change. In Jordan, the youth are an untapped reserve. If the Arab Spring showed us anything it is that as pressure continues to build, young people in Jordan will eventually take the helm when the moment is right — it could be months, or it could be years.

Across the social strata, older generations are largely invested in the status quo and have too much to lose by rocking the boat, but Jordanian youth could have a great deal to gain by shifting the balance of power. With those under the age of thirty-five comprising nearly 70 percent of the county’s population with a 30 percent unemployment rate, the youth have both the numbers and the impetus to play an import role in pushing for change. Participating in formal politics has been disincentivized by the domination of elders in political parties and a minimum age requirement of thirty to run in parliamentary elections, which limits young peoples’ inclination and ability to influence policy.

The perpetuation of the current state of affairs where political power is concentrated among a small elite, nepotism dictates success, and the misuse of state resources causes great frustration for young Jordanians who do not have access to the kind of economic and employment opportunity they need. That said, the Jordanian monarchy does not practice the kind of repression that Mubarak’s Egypt or Ben Ali’s Tunisia suffered from over decades. Though restricted by their age in important ways, young Jordanians do have the opportunity to engage in various forms of political activism, whether through registered political parties, informal opposition movements, social justice and volunteerism, street protests, or internet-based youth platforms."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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